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Iraqis Eye New Cabinet With Caution

Some complain there are too few Sunnis, while others hope the government will be able to impose security.
By Ali Marzook

Iraqis have expressed mixed reactions to the new government which has finally been sworn in after months of wrangling over ministerial posts and other issues.


The cabinet confirmed by the National Assembly on May 3 contained five ministers appointed only on an acting basis, and two posts of deputy prime minister remained vacant. The 37 cabinet positions nominated by incoming Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari had been approved by the parliament on April 28 as continuing disagreements prevented some of the jobs being filled.


Disputes over who would hold the post of defence minister, which is supposed to go to a Sunni, held up formalisation of the new government earlier in the day, but in the end the swearing-in ceremony went ahead anyway.


For the moment, al-Jaafari will be acting defence minister as well as prime minister, while fellow United Iraqi Alliance politician Ahmad Chalabi, a controversial figure who was once an ally of the Pentagon, was named as acting oil minister.


Some Iraqis said they were disappointed that the Sunni Arabs were not better represented in the new government. Outgoing president Ghazi al-Yawer, who was recently named deputy president in the new government, threatened to quit his post in protest over issue.


The Sunnis wanted seven ministerial posts, but were offered six during negotiations with the largely Shia United Iraqi Alliance which won the January general election and the Kurdish Alliance List which came second.


“It is a conspiracy against the Sunnis, to keep them out of the cabinet,” said Abdul Hassan al-Janabi, 55, who owns a transport company. “I am pessimistic about this government, and I don’t think they will serve the people any better.”


For others, ensuring security remained the main issue. Since the new government was announced, at least 168 Iraqis have been killed in a spate of attacks across the country. Insurgents clashed with Iraqi and United States forces in the town of Ramadi on May 3, resulting in the deaths of 12 militants and one Iraqi soldier.


“We have to assist the new government as that is the only way to get rid of terror,” said Sabri Jabur, 53, who trades in spare car parts. “Once there is law and order, there will be peace and security.”


Farhan Shrhan, 60, the head of a primary school, said ordinary Iraqis, too, must work to create stability and avoid a potential civil war between Sunnis and Shias. “We must abandon sectarianism and work to rebuild the country, because we suffered a lot under Saddam’s regime,” he said.


Hamid al-Humrani, 47, who heads a peace organisation, agreed that the public must do its share after the first free elections in decades, “It is our chance to line up with the government to prove to the entire world that we are a living people who can reshape themselves from the ashes. Despite our losses, life must go on.”


Some people were cautiously optimistic while others said it was too early to evaluate the new government.


“I am hopeful that they will work for our interests and prove their capacity to deal with challenges,” said Kareem Huzam, 45, an internet café owner.


Housewife Ashwaq Jasim, 30, said: “It is difficult to judge them solely on the basis of their names. The future will help us judge them when we see what they achieve.”


Despite differing opinions about the new cabinet, many agreed that it had to be an improvement on the old regime.


“Whatever the new government is like, it is better and more merciful than the administration of the deposed Saddam,” said Ameen Hadi, 25, a merchant.


Ali Marzook is an IWPR trainee in Baghdad.


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